“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – Timothy 4:7
The Silence That Changed Our Lives is the story about Chris, my nephew and Godson who was taken from us in a tragic accident last summer at the age of twenty. So many times over the past four months when I’ve tried to make sense out of the unthinkable I keep coming back to a young man who came to pay his respects the day of Chris’s funeral.
I sat in the front row of church with my family watching a parade of mourners funnel to the altar to pay their respects when something unusual caught my attention. I turned and came eye-to-eye with a young man dressed in a white shirt and tie. It took only a few seconds to realize he was alone among the crowd of adults. When it was the young man’s turn to offer his condolences to the family, he somehow looked taller and as mature as anyone who had preceded him. After hugs and hand shakes with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew, this young man walked to the head of the casket and stared at Chris for what seemed a couple of minutes. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to Chris, but he was definitely communicating with him.
When he finished whatever business he had with Chris, he walked down the aisle toward the back of church. I expected to see an adult, a mother or father, an older sister or brother to be waiting for him, but saw nobody. I got up from my seat and followed him outside. When I caught up with him I introduced myself and thanked him for coming. He told me that Chris was his summer camp counselor, and then paused a moment and added, “Chris was the nicest person I ever met in my life.” There was nothing left to do but hug him. I had learned later that on the first day of camp the young man had been bullied and that Chris settled the matter. Recently, more than 100 family and friends gathered for a memorial tree planting for Chris at that summer camp on a cold winter evening.
In The Silence That Changed Our Lives I wrote about how Chris did things his way. How he lead his cross-country team as an All-Catholic runner, and went to the State Championships all four years of his high school running career, always with his trademark untied running shoe laces streaming in the wind. Chris’s friends have told me story after story about how funny he was, and how much they relied on him to be a calm and steady presence in their lives. The look in their eyes tell me that he still is, and thankfully Chris left a lot of himself with us.
Friends of Chris’s family established a scholarship at Archbishop Wood High School that will be awarded each year to a young athlete who emulates Chris’s values. Recently, more than 600 people attended a fundraiser for the scholarship fund in Chris’s honor. Chris’s legacy will live on forever.
So when I try to make sense of the unthinkable, I keep coming back to that young man. I believe the day will come when he will tell others about the summer camp counselor who changed his life–this kind, funny and happy-go-lucky kid by the name of Chris. Chris’s legacy is a reminder about the impression we all have on others simply by the way we live your lives.